The Challenge of Cultural Christianity

A couple of years ago, my family and I moved to the Westside of Atlanta. Like most people, who look at our neighborhood from the outside looking in, we understood it to be a low income, primarily African American community that was also culturally and religiously diverse. So, we thought we were coming to reach the socially and economically depressed, under-resourced, unchurched people of our city.  As we began to engage our neighbors, we quickly realized that we would also be faced with the unique challenge of sharing Christ’s love with what could be classified as “Cultural Christians."  Now before I get into some of the evangelistic challenges I've faced reaching this particular sub-group, let me first start by giving a definition of a “Cultural Christian”.  I would define a cultural Christian as an individual who is doctrinally and relationally disconnected from the Christ of the Christian faith, yet “still significantly identifies with Christian culture due to family background, personal experiences, or the social and cultural environment in which they grew up” (Wikipedia).

The Hidden Communication Gap

One of the first and most apparent challenges I’ve faced living in this environment has been the communication barrier even with those who consider themselves Christians. In the past, my spiritual conversations with others went fairly well, at least from the standpoint that the listener left with a clear understanding of what was being said even if they disagreed with the content. This isn’t always the case with those living in my neighborhood.

I remember the first time I walked through the Scriptures with a 20-year-old young man who ”grew up in the church” and lived down the street from us. As we read through Colossians he had a number of difficulties both articulating and understanding certain words any 10 year old should be able to comprehend. At first, it caught me off guard, provoking feelings of insecurity around my own level of education and questions like:

How do I share in such a way as not to come off arrogant by my terminology and questions?

Is this even the best version of the Bible to be using right now?

How do I improve my skills of sharing truth in a way that anyone can understand?

Then my heart was grieved by how much this education gap affected my ability to effectively present God and his gospel to this young man. I left that conversation with of course more questions and as well a new perspective on the value of education and how important it is to solve this epidemic in communities like mine.

How do you convince someone who holds contradictory beliefs, that they indeed hold contradictory beliefs?

Since I first began learning about the community and culture of the Historic West End I have consistently encountered those who claim Christianity, yet don’t claim Christian beliefs or claim many others beliefs as well. Helping people see the contradictions evident in some of their beliefs has been the problem.

As a friend and I worked in my garden one day with a couple of young guys from down the street, one of them asked us about what it meant to have faith in God. I had previously ran into these two fellas on a prayer walk so this question was more of a follow up to what we had previously spoken to them about.  To take full advantage of the opportunity, we expounded more on the Gospel and what true belief looked like. This time, however, was very enlightening as we learned more about their story as well as some of their beliefs.

While they affirmed several Christian truths they also explained how they believed in reincarnation. For them, death was merely a steppingstone into another life as something else, “probably as an animal or another person” they said. They also mentioned their uncertainty about whether this life was actually real or simply just a dream or figment of our own imaginations.

I could go on and on but soon I realized that over the span of the 19 years they had been alive, they had grown up with Christian principles but had been polluted by everything and anything else that sounded good. This amalgamation of different religions, cultures, or schools of thought seems to be very rampant in our context. No matter how much money people may have or their ethnicity this train of thinking is what I have repeatedly run into time and time again.

Despite the many challenges, The Lord is gracious and faithful. In continuing to walk with folks, I’ve learned that a lot of my time is spent merely listening to them, asking questions and carefully trusting the Holy Spirit to speak to people's hearts not their intellects and to peel away layer after layer of deceptions and lies through his Word. My only hope is that the Lord would ultimately open their eyes to see him for who He really is (2 Cor. 4:4-6).

Lunch with Dee

So, I spent last week going to an area of town called Little Five Points with the aspiration of talking about Jesus to a few people every day.  Now, understand, I’m a strategist. I’m a guy that has a strategy and a plan for everything.  When I’m invited to play a new board game with friends, I’ll sit out the first round and try to come up with a strategy before I dive in.  That’s just who I am.  So, as we were driving to Little Five last Monday & Tuesday, I thought about how I could ensure that I actually got to have a conversation about Jesus that wouldn’t get cut off by somebody having something to do.  That’s when it came to me.

I’ll try to engage someone that doesn't have anything else to do!

Who doesn’t have anything else to do? The homeless people that are overlooked by everyone else.

Earlier in the month, as I’ve been reading books about man being made in the image of God, something stuck out to me.  We all, as beings created in the image of God, have a capacity to relate to God—that’s one of the greatest qualities we posses. My prayer has been for God to give me the people that no one else wants, and it wasn’t until this week that it all came together.  I spent Monday & Tuesday taking homeless people out to eat, and it was amazing.  Here are a few things that I learned...

  1. Homeless ≠ Stupid.  Homelessness can very well be a lack of support system.

I took a guy named Digger out to lunch this week.  He asked for money, and I asked if I could buy him lunch instead to which he replied, “Absolutely.”  For about an hour, I sat down and talked to Dee and asked to hear his story.  In a nutshell, he told me about his former life as an engineer who worked for GM.  Many years ago, his wife and son were in a car wreck and died.  He went into a depression, lost his job, his house, etc. With no friends, family or support system Dee was now homeless.

I was floored by how easy it was for someone to lose everything and how difficult it was to regain anything.  Dee was an intelligent well spoken individual with tons of insight about life.  Dee was a man (based on his story, which I chose to take at face value) that fell on hard times and did not have the things that we have that numb us to how easy it is for life to take a drastic turn like this.

Understanding this truth moved me from condescension to compassion.  People have back stories, and I’ve learned to reserve my judgment about their character (or lack thereof) for a time when I’ve heard them out.

  1. Some homeless individuals recognize they’ve been given a gift by God—the gift of desperation.

Towards the middle of our conversation, after hearing him use the words “the good Lord” time and time again, I asked him for his thoughts about God.  What he said shocked me. Dee started to tell me about his belief in Jesus as the only “go between” between man and God.  He shared how he trusted in Jesus years ago to save him from his sin and how he really attempts to be led by him daily and is grateful for his provision.  He shared that he doesn’t know why his life turned out this way, but he’s confident that Jesus allowed it somehow for His good.

After talking about religion, faith, and asking as many other probing questions as I could, I asked Dee what his biggest frustration was with people that walk by him on a daily basis.  I expected him to start to rant and rave about how people treat him as less than human, the looks that he gets, and the rejection he comes across.  Dee didn’t say any of that.  He said, “My biggest frustration is the way that I see people walk back on forth on a daily basis as if they don’t need God.”

Dee wasn’t frustrated with people, or mad at them because of anything they did to him.  He pitied them because they didn’t have what he had.  He was frustrated that people couldn’t see that God provides for them daily, and they walk around as if they don’t need him.  He was given a great gift—the gift of desperation.  He saw and recognized that every piece of food, every meal, every dime that was given to him was a gift from God.

Dee was a man that seemed like he understood the blessing of dependence on God.  And his words have stuck with me since the day that we talked.  It’s so funny how we think we have something to offer people that don’t have “anything”, but it’s really them that end up giving the most to us.

3. “He who has God and everything else has no more than he who has God only." – C.S. Lewis

This past Tuesday this quote became reality. In an attempt to offer something to somebody that didn’t have “anything”, I understood that he had just as much as I do.

We ended the conversation by stumbling on the fact that we actually have the same birthday. (I verified it by googling his real name). I told him that we would celebrate together, if he was still around.  I hope that when that time comes this summer, these lessons that I’ve learned will still be just as impactful.

If not, I thank God that he has so linked me with someone who shares my birthday, so that when I wake up to celebrate a few months from now, I’ll be forced to remember these lessons.

What Would You Do?

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to sit down with Chris Broussard (Ok, you got me. I sat down at my computer and emailed questions, and he sat down to email his responses.) and discuss what it's like for him to be a Christian in the media. While he admitted there are nuances, for the most part, he linked his experiences with those that every Christian with a secular job faces. But I'm sure on Monday, the difference was clear. When someone asks us where we stand on a controversial topic, only a few people will be privy to our response. Maybe a thousand or so if we share our stance via social media, and that's still if half of our friends and followers aren't just spammers selling fake Jordans! (I digress.) But when someone asks Chris Broussard what he thinks, on ESPN, just about the whole world will know. Yet, as the smoke clears--in the wake of Chris Broussard's bold, yet polarizing, commentary regarding Jason Collins' announcement about his sexuality--amongst the debris are some things I believe deserve further investigation within the hearts of Christians.

What would you have said if ESPN asked you (randomly) for your thoughts?

Would you have congratulated Collins like everyone else in media? Would you have done that knowing that scripture says that homosexuals will not inherit the kingdom of God? Would you focus more on how "free" Collins or any gay person who just came out feels and not want to rain on their parade because you understand how tough their life must be? Would you be afraid that your statements would be labeled as hate, so opt instead for the politically correct answer? If specifically asked, as Broussard was, about Collins legitimacy as a Christian considering his sexuality, would you have communicated what the Bible says? Or would you not want to mention a book that the world has improperly dissected and ruled antiquated? Would you somehow avoid specifically answering the question because of fear?

So, you'd speak the truth you say? Ok. But would you be so fired up (not that Broussard was) about the state of the world, that all you would communicate is the bad news about sin? Would you isolate homosexuality as the sin of sins and make Collins out to be the chief of sinners? Would you forget that even though you're answering a question posed by an interviewer, potentially millions of unrepentant souls are listening and your words will reach Jason Collins and many other openly and secretly gay individuals? Would you speak as though the world and not just your Christian friends who are ready to high five you are listening?

What would you do?

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."- MLK Jr.

You would need to say something. So often we pray for opportunities, but we miss them--both big and small--because we talk ourselves out of saying something risky or not so eloquent. No, you shouldn't mimic those at Westboro who only preach doom and no redemption—no Gospel. And no you shouldn't water down the truth just because it will sting others and put you at risk of media martyrdom. So, let's rethink this. What if Collins was instead admitting that he was a heterosexual constantly engaged in fornication (teetering on being a sexaholic) but also claiming Christ? Not admitting the wrongness of it, but embracing what he is and encouraging others to do the same.  As John so eloquently communicated the other day, Collins' confession could either be admittance of his desires, which would not disqualify him from Christianity, or admittance of the sexuality he has secretly been living out and that which he will now live out openly. If it's admittance of what he's been doing and/or will begin doing, then the heterosexual sexaholic comparison fits. So then, what would you say about that same person claiming Christ?

Could you imagine a Christian on television congratulating someone who consistently fornicated or remaining silent about their stance? We'd be ready to crucify him ourselves! But homosexuality is different, right?

Yes and no. Obviously, homosexuality is a more acceptable lifestyle than say adultery or being a sexaholic, not even the world went easy on Tiger Woods. And yes, homosexuals are discriminated against because of their lifestyle, so we need to be sensitive to that because hatred is not acceptable in the name of holiness. We all know who Jesus opted to dine with. But, no, none of that makes God any less offended by the sin. It is that fact that I think we struggle to wrap our minds and oh so loving hearts around. Yet, I remember an old pastor of mine saying something that I still carry with me: "God will love you all the way to the gates of hell." Ouch. That might not seem like an inviting love, but he was warning us not to allow our view of love and how God should love people trump God's actual holiness.

With that in mind, we have to say something in these situations. I'm glad Broussard did, and I hope it gets us out of our comfort zones. The reality that there's a public outrage against someone calling a sin a sin should remind us that our nation does not believe in the authority of God's word. In case we couldn't already tell that. It should remind us that even as we sit and watch the NBA playoffs, those athletes are only playing for a perishable crown; yet, one day their bodies will perish and their souls will be found in or outside of Christ. And all those in the stands and around the world will face the same judgement. But no one talks about hell anymore. It's too risky. I believe we cruise through life until something reminds us that there's a war going on and lives are at stake. For me, this is such a time.

That means speaking up isn't always about saying the perfect thing. And in this day in age, saying the right thing should be met with opposition. It always has been. Jesus said we would be hated, and we know what happened to Stephen. Could it be that we're able to cruise, because we are hiding the full truth from neighbors and friends? I'm not saying we need to think of offensive things to say to get us persecuted, but sometimes speaking up is about saying something that all but one person in a crowd will hate. They will instead be challenged to repent and be saved. Sometimes speaking up is about acting courageously, which will inspire others to do the same wherever they are. Sometimes speaking up is not about waiting for the perfect opportunity, where you're one-on-one with someone and can make sure you have the opportunity to clarify everything or waiting to build a relationship with them so they know for sure you love them first. Yet, all the time, speaking up must be about bringing God glory as you believe God would have you (as lead by the Spirit).

"Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory." 2 Timothy 2:10

What will you endure?

BOSTON BOMBINGS, JUSTICE, AND THE MOST “INSENSITIVE” WORDS JESUS EVER SAID

Once again, with a heavy heart, I am writing about a tragedy that has occurred in our society. Yesterday, during the Boston Marathon, a series of deadly bombings ripped through the crowds injuring over a hundred of people, even killing two. This senseless act of malicious violence once again confirms the bleak, desolate state our broken world is currently in. During his White House address, President Barack Obama declared that he would find those who did this malicious crime and they will “feel the full weight of justice.” I whole-heartedly agree with the President and his bold cry for justice, but I tend to wonder if I truly understand what justice means at times. After reading my Bible in hopes of finding light to this situation, I stumbled across a passage that wrecked my heart. As I share the following words I read, please tread patiently with me through the entire article. In no way am I trying to senselessly disarm this situation with heartless Christian divergent tactics. I am only trying to humbly bring light to the truth about difficult situations such as these in hopes of bringing peace to those who are hurting.

CAN GOD BE INSENSITIVE?

Jesus Christ is the most loving, gracious, kind, compassionate, humble, servant-hearted, and joyful man that ever walked the Earth. Not only was he a strong leader whose words convicted the hearts of the multitudes He spoke to, but he was also a compassionate friend who shed tears on many occasions for the death of those close to him (John 11:35).  Jesus loved all people regardless of their race, class, age, or sexual orientation. On this Earth, Jesus suffered more emotional and spiritual pain than anyone before or after him. He was the perfect man, the God-man, who was on mission to save those whom he loved from the pain, suffering, and torment that sin has left the world in. But Jesus, at times, said words that my wicked heart tends to grow bitter towards. He said things that left even his closest of friends shaking their heads in confusion because of its seemingly “insensitive nature.” Read with me as we take a look into one of these jaw-dropping, blunt statements that was made by Jesus to the people,

There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Luke 13:1-5

In this passage of scripture, we see Jesus describing two tragic events that occurred in Israel. On one occasion, a group of Galileans were killed by Roman guards while they were making sacrifices to God, and on the other occasion a group of eighteen people died after a tower collapsed and crushed them. Both these individuals more than likely died with families and friends who for days shed tears of anguish because of the death of their loved ones. All these victims' hopes, dreams, and future goals were ruined due to either the vicious acts of lawless ungodly men or an unforeseen accident. And how does Jesus respond to this heartbreaking, distressing, painful situation? He says, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

“How dare he?!” We would say. What type of insensitive person would look at a situation where innocent people died for no reason and say that we all will perish with the same fate if we don’t repent? If Jesus is God, and God is a God of righteousness, truth, and justice, why is he not sending a legion of angels in order to destroy those evildoers? What in the world is going on here? Well, let me give you a reason as to why Jesus made this claim. Jesus said these things not because he was an insensitive, religious leader who doesn’t have a heart—he is God in the flesh who suffered the punishment for every sin that was ever committed on the Earth. He said these things in order to bring us on our faces in tears, so we can see that the wicked horrors in society are the same wickedness that is present in our very hearts.

REALITY CHECK

A lot of times we can look at a situation such as a tower falling on innocent people or the Boston bombings and ask ourselves how can such a thing happen to those good people? Yet, that should never be the question posed. Horrific events such as these should always push us to ask the question, “How can a loving, perfect, righteous God not allow an event like that happen to a wicked person such as me?”

The Bible says that all men are sinful and “none do good” (Romans 3:1-11) and similar to Obama’s plight for seeking justice against evildoers, God also will punish those who do evil, which is all of us. We are not good people who occasionally do bad things, as some psychologist may deceive us into believing, we are inherently bad people who occasionally do good things through the grace of God. And God being a God of holiness, will punish all of us because we are not holy and pure. Yet, the beauty of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that through the cross forgiveness is available for everyone. God can forgive the Romans who slew the Galileans, He can forgive the men who are behind the Boston bombings, and he can forgive all of us who sin against him every day. When tragedy strikes, it's an opportunity for us to see the grace that he has for all, regardless of who they are and what they have done.

GOD IS LOVE, NO MATTER THE SITUATION

The Bible says that Jesus is able to sympathize with us during all of our pains and sufferings (Hebrews 4:15). Jesus consistently wept over the injustice and perils of this world throughout his entire life (Luke 19:41). But the Bible also makes clear that God allows injustice not so that we can point to him and say, “God, why are you not good?” but to cause us to fall on our faces and say, “God, thank you so much for being good and forgiving me even though I don’t deserve it.”

Please continue to be in prayer for those who are victims of the bombings in Boston. Regardless of how we interpret the Bible, God is not an insensitive absentee landlord, for He here’s the cries and meets the needs of his afflicted children. As we pray, let us continue to reflect inwardly in order to see that we are the same as those sinners who planted these bombs, but the goodness and grace of God appeared in order for us and everyone else who trusts in Jesus to repent and live.

“For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live.” Ezekiel 18:32

New Year||New Desires

So, we’re one week into the new year.  If you do any type of writing, you’re kind of locked in to having to write something about the new year before you’re allowed to write about anything else.  Consider it an unwritten rule. It’s kind of like the whole concept of placing money under the free parking space in Monopoly. Somewhere along the line, someone came up with that rule, and it gained wide acceptance.  But look in the actual rule book—it’s nowhere to be found. Although I usually don’t abide by unwritten rules, I found a good reason to position my colorful dollars under the board in hopes of giving you a new perspective on resolutions.

Everyone (almost everyone anyway) has a new set of resolutions.  This newfound resolve stems from a desire for something different.  People, for these first few short weeks, are keenly aware of the destructive nature of their eating habits, relational tendencies, lack of discipline, etc. and they desperately want to change those things.  People just want to get rid of bad habits, and we believe the way to do that is to rid ourselves of bad desires.

Here’s the thing about desires though: desires are never discarded. Rather, they are always displaced. It’s impossible to empty out your heart of desire.  No one at any point in time is void of desire.  To do so would be impossible.  Our hearts were made for desire. They are always longing for something, always reaching, always wanting.  If we realize this truth, it completely changes the way that we deal with wrong desires.

If you’re anything like me, when you realize that you’ve been desiring something that you shouldn’t, the first response is to tell yourself, “I shouldn’t desire that.”  I don’t need that cake, I don’t need to look at that, I don’t need to be with this person, and the list goes on and on.  Identifying bad desires is the easy part; ridding ourselves of those bad desires is what’s hard.

For most of us, we think the the solution is just forcing ourselves to discard the desires. We believe that if we can just get rid of those feelings, those lusts, those inclinations, then all will be well.  Again, if you’re anything like me, you’ve experienced very little success in actually putting away (or discarding desires).  It’s because desires can never be discarded; they have to be displaced.  You can’t just get rid of desires; you have to replace them.

Our desires are never just thrown away; they are always traded for what we feel like is something better.  Our hearts are always full to the brim with a longing for something.  The only way to be successful in changing our desires is to exchange our desires.  The only way to really deal with lust is to be so desirous of something else that the previous desire is crowded out in favor of a newer, better desire.

Stop trying to deal with bad habits by trying to rid yourself of them.  Deal with bad habits by replacing the older desire with a new one.  This year, rather than spending your time trying to muster up the willpower to STOP, focus your energy on STARTING.

"Taste and see that the Lord is good."  Psalms 34:8

I’ve made one commitment this year and that is that I want to be so consumed with Jesus that he displaces my desire for evil.  This is what trying looks like.  Trying isn’t mustering up the correct amount of willpower at the moment that I’m tempted to want what’s bad for me.  I’ve tried that, and I’ve failed every time.  What trying looks like is waking up each morning with a renewed sense of desperation to be satisfied by what I find in Jesus.  The more that I read and meditate on what he says, the more I find myself in awe of how the things that once gripped my heart pale in comparison to what I now see.

Desires are meant to be displaced, not just discarded.

Waiting By the Phone

“I don’t want to be that girl,” my friend Fiona says, “who waits by the phone.”

And suddenly it all becomes clear. “But Fiona,” I say, “you are that girl. I am that girl. My mother is that girl and her mother before her. We’re all waiting by the phone.

“You think there is a cure for waiting by the phone, but there’s not. The phone call doesn’t cure it. Dating the guy who calls doesn’t cure it. Marriage doesn’t fix that ache to be remembered and singled out and loved. Lovesick is just how we are. It’s an illness. Even when you are married, you have times when you wait by the phone.”

I feel for Fiona. I forget the colossal risk a single girl takes when she goes so far as to be slightly interested in a guy. I know being interested is a gamble. What if he’s not remotely interested back? Which makes love like playing a crooked slot machine in a corrupt casino. What if I’m not loved back? Or what if he loves me, then changes his mind and leaves? Or (and this is plausible to the point of actual) he loves me but he doesn’t say it the way I need to hear it? Or when I need to hear it. What if I’m trapped in a marriage where waiting by the phone is a more accurate euphemism for marriage than for dating?  What if he waits till I’ve invested everything and then he makes the ultimate exit of dying? What will my heart do with that insult of all insults? That first spark of interest is a painful risk—an omen of the deeper risk of involvement—and I forgot about that.

Waiting in Antiquity

Every one of us is waiting for someone who will be there, who will pay attention to our words, the petty ones and the precious ones, someone who won’t leave or opt out or lose focus. Someone who will call just when we need for them to. And our lovesickness has symptoms that emerge when we’re waiting. Disappointment, discouragement, sorrow, fear, impatience, irritability, anger, bitterness. The darker side of lovesickness is our inability to fully do for others what we crave for ourselves. We try, we really do, but we’re not always good at it. Someone is waiting on us to deliver and we fail…a lot.

It’s been this way since the fall. When our ancestors loved, they rolled the same dice. Waiting has never been safe. Somewhere around 1000 B.C., Ruth and her mother-in-law, Naomi, met and married men who turned out to be colossal risks. Naomi returned to her homeland and told her friends the unvarnished truth: “I left full and I have returned empty.” She and Ruth arrived in Israel not just heartsick, but as heartbroken widows.

Which makes what happened next pretty darn amazing. Naomi orchestrated another courtship for Ruth. And Ruth cooperated. The older woman effectively said, “Ruth, dear, take your broken heart and offer it to a stranger. Wait by the phone. You may end up looking like a fool, but, who knows, you might get a husband in the end.”

And Ruth did it. At least these days if you wait by the phone you can do it in the privacy of your own home. He doesn’t have to know you’re waiting. But Ruth had to do something I’m not sure many of us would do. Naomi instructed (easy for her to say):

"Take a bath. Put on some perfume. Get all dressed up and go to the threshing floor. But don't let him know you're there until the party is well under way and he's had plenty of food and drink. When you see him slipping off to sleep, watch where he lies down and then go there. Lie at his feet to let him know that you are available to him for marriage. Then wait and see what he says. He'll tell you what to do."(Ruth 3:3-4)

Here’s where I might have shrieked at my mother-in-law, “Wait and see what he says? Are you crazy? Lie at his feet?”

But it worked. You know why I think it worked? (Aside from the culture at the time and the fact that Ruth may have been prime marriage material, whatever that means.) I’m guessing here, but one small observation says something significant to me. Boaz—the potential husband—woke to find Ruth under his blanket…asleep. Asleep! Ruth took a monumental risk and waited for the outcome. While she was waiting she slept. I don’t know about you, but when I am impatient or anxious, especially about a relationship, I do just about anything but sleep. Ruth slept without the benefit of an Ambien or a white-noise machine or a glass of Merlot.

A woman who sleeps in these circumstances is a woman at peace. The DNA of peace is trust. Ruth had lived through enough to know she could never fully trust husbands, or any other mortal for that matter. They might up and die on you. Ruth was waiting on Someone else, the God of Israel Naomi called “The Strong One.” How do I know that? After both of their husbands died, Ruth begged to go with Naomi to Israel, saying, “Your God will be my god.” Naomi was her only connection to the God she had already embraced. Sure, she loved Naomi, but it looks like she loved her God even more.

Ruth could wait on Boaz because she knew how to wait on The Strong One. Waiting on others is an exercise in disappointment. It makes for one-dimensional living. Waiting on the Strong One is a sure bet every time. It makes for a life that lives and breathes and grows beyond us.

One time my sister said, “I don’t have road rage, I cause it.” Well, we all have disappointment and we cause it. We’re mortal and lovesick and infected with sin. That’s why waiting on others is such a gamble. It doesn’t mean we don’t do it—just think what we would miss—but it does mean we don’t expect an immediate return on our risk. We know how often others have not “shown up” for us and how often we have not “shown up” for them.

But God doesn’t have our disease. He can be waited on with utter confidence. Look for the word “wait” in the Psalms and Proverbs and you’ll see proof. The writers typically used the word one of two ways. First, connected to a direct object: God who is a Rescuer and a Friend on whom the writer waits. Second, connected to a subject: the enemy waiting in the bushes to pounce. Make two lists of both usages of “wait” and you’ll find the ratio is about two to one. For what it’s worth, those ancient lovers of the Strong One cried out in devotion to God twice as much as they cried out in fear about their enemies.

Ruth was able to wait by the phone (or under the blanket) for Boaz because she waited for his God first. She could take the risk, not because she knew Boaz would be all she hoped he would be, but because her true Kinsman Redeemer was her all and all. She became David’s great-grandmother and, one day a thousand years later, one of only three women mentioned in Jesus’ ancestry. Waiting gave her life a meaning it would never have had otherwise.

So here’s what I want to say to my friend Fiona:

“Fiona, be that girl. Just wait on someone else. Be that girl with all your heart.”

 

change you really don't believe in

Every four years we see the true character of our nation.  In the summer, we’re as united as Americans can be as we cheer on our athletes in the Olympics.  Grown men of all races sit around TVs in homes, restaurants, and bars cheering on people we don’t know playing sports we’ve never heard of.  We unite under the banner of being American and revel in the fact that we live in the second greatest country in the world (second only to the great nation of Texas, of course).  No sooner than the Olympics are over, however, we immediately transition into Civil War mode, and we become the most divided country in the world when politics take center stage. Isn’t it amazing how the trivial unites us, but the vital divides us?  What does that say about where we’re headed?  What does that say about what we really value?  The best way to unite our country is to get us to compete in games that mean nothingand the easiest way to divide us is to try and get us to cooperate in the building of our society, which in some sense means everything.  If that’s not an indictment on where we are as a country, I don’t know what is.

Now, understand, I’m a Christian and a pastor, so my aim isn’t cultural or political commentary in a broad sense; it’s aimed specifically at Christians who find themselves as willing (or unwilling) participants in this Civil War that follows a time of "peace".  A greater indictment than what our country does as a whole is the way that we as Christians are divided.  Amid all the tweets of people saying the EXACT same thing, what I haven’t found are attitudes that reflect those tweets (at least leading up to the election).  One week removed from the election, I feel like things are back to “normal” and our tension is kept at bay.  I know that there’s a whole can of worms that can be opened as you talk about politics, but there is one in particular that I really believe would help us as believers four years from now when the next election comes our way.

Let your political stance every four years match the way you live in the interim.

This election brought about an interesting dynamic, in light of Governor Romney’s statement on abortion.  For the first time, at least since I’ve been able to vote, we had a Republican candidate say that, “There is no legislation with regards to abortion that I'm familiar with that would become part of my agenda.”  Many people interpreted what he said as “I don’t plan on doing anything about abortion.” In wanting to be fair to governor Romney, he later clarified his stance and said that wasn’t what he meant at all.  My objective is not to argue whether he meant what he said or not; instead, I want to focus on what his statement potentially signified. I believe that the popular interpretation of his comment is so indicative of the political posture of many of us.  “I believe strongly about this; however, I don't really plan on doing anything about it.”

It is paralyzing to die on a hill of belief when actions won’t accompany it.

Let me create caricatures to make this point plain.  The caricature of the Republican party is that they are the party that cares about abortion—that’s the topic many Christians use to defend why they can only vote for the Republican party.  The caricature of the Democratic Party is that they are the party that cares about the poor—that’s the topic many Christians use to defend why they can only vote for the Democratic party.  The issues are more complex than this, but for the sake of argument, let’s go with these caricatures.

If abortion is the main issue, and if abortion is the hill you’re willing to die on (every four years of course), then the real marker of your stance is not the outcome of the election. The real measure of the depth of your conviction and burden is what you have done in the past seven days to help rectify this problem (because it is a problem). What are your plans for the next seven days? I know what your plans are three years and 51 weeks from today, but what are your plans in the interim?  If you don’t have any, you may fall into this demographic— “I believe strongly about this; however, I don’t really plan on doing anything about it.”

For the sake of fairness, how much are you really burdened for the poor and disenfranchised?  Since the election, how have you implemented poverty alleviation in the past seven days?  What are your plans for the next seven days?  I know what your plans are three years and 51 weeks from now, but what’s your plan right now?  If you don’t have any, you may fall into the “I believe strongly about this; however, I don’t really plan on doing anything about it” demographic as well.

VOTING IS NOT ENOUGH

So here’s my point (if it’s not readily apparent)— I don’t care who you voted for last week.  I think that a case can be made for Christian faithfulness regardless of who you selected on your ballot.  My real plea is that you would live the next three years and 51 weeks as if whatever issue you were ready to “die on a hill” for last week is actually important.  That you would live in such a way that shows you are pro-life by actually doing something about abortion.  Find out how you can really make a difference.  Get involved in the lives of individuals that are struggling.  Volunteer at a crisis pregnancy center.  Pray for the courage and boldness to be an advocate for those who feel like they are trapped and have no other choice but abortion.  Pray for the leaders who legislate regularly. Get involved in the politics that really make a change.

If you have a heart and burden for the poor, pray for them.  Rearrange your finances and money for their benefit.  Come up with a plan as to how your family is going to alleviate the real needs of the actual people that surround you, and not the hypothetical individuals that you vote to help.

How are you being proactive in this?  Are you as proactive in this as you were with spouting off statements on why your candidate was the best?

In a nutshell, prove how much your political stance really means to you by the way you live during the years in between elections.  After these three years and 51 weeks go by, make sure your vocal political stance during election season doesn’t exceed your actual political stance in the in between.  You may find out you're not as passionate about politics as you think you are.  And a few of you may find out that you’re more passionate than you thought.

Becoming Strong by Following

Life offers us, if we’ll let it, many opportunities to become expert followers. . . Just so you know, I wrote this several years ago. It is not in response to any of the current leaders in my life, either at home, at church or in our government.

Psalm 77:19

“Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen.”

The context of these verses is the incredible story of God’s leadership of his people out of Egypt, through the Red Sea, and into the Promised Land. As I began to picture the men and women of Israel standing on the banks of the Red Sea – roiling waters before them, raging enemy closing in behind them – I could only imagine that they were anxious and afraid, but also that they were angry with Moses for leading them to what was surely imminent death. Knowing my own nature and the tendency of most of us when we aren’t in charge but want to be, I can picture that the Israelites were disgruntled with Moses for what appeared to be botched leadership. And because they were effectively trapped between two dangers, unable to fix or change the situation themselves, they grumbled and complained. What else could they do?

Sometimes, like the Israelites, I cannot see God’s footprints at all. The only feet I see, other than my own, are the dirty, smelly, ugly feet of the regular human being in charge. It may be my husband’s feet, or an employer’s, a pastor’s or leader’s, or even the imagined feet of “them,” the government, the college, the system. These are the people who make decisions that I would certainly have made differently had I been in charge, the path I would have taken had my dirty, stinky, filthy feet led the way. I’m not bitter, but I do suspect I have issues with authority, especially when all I can see are the feet that seem to be misleading me up ahead. And I can’t see God’s footprints until much later when there is dancing on the far banks of the sea.

Here’s what I typically do in these situations: I look at the feet of the person in charge, and I notice how unclean and corrupt they are. Then, maybe, I’ll look at my own restless feet, feet that are tapping out a waiting-room fidget. Both perspectives frustrate the heck out of me and don’t really help matters.

But . . . hopefully . . . finally I look at Jesus’ feet.

And here’s where it gets interesting. Jesus was led by our dirty feet to a death on a cross that scarred his feet forever. He chose to experience a life and death that pressed on him inexorably and he complained only once that I can see, in the Garden of Gethsemane when he asked to be relieved of his duties if there was any way around the tragically passive stance he was about to take towards his own life. These are the feet I cannot always see, but I know are always there. These are the feet that are spotless and clean and perfect. These are the feet worth following, even if it means swallowing my pride and following the human feet of someone whose feet are as unworthy as mine to lead.

The Audacity of Halloween

Last night, all around the country, kids, teenagers and adults (not just parents) did something bold and courageous.  They went up to their neighbors and strangers alike asking for what they wanted: candy. In most cases (of course, there are those stubborn apple-givers) their requests were obliged.  But what if the lights were off at one house because no one was home? What if someone opened their door only to tell them they weren't giving out candy? What if they didn't get the candy they wanted at that old guy's house? Unshaken, they kept knocking. Door-to-door they went with hopeful hearts. What they hoped for was enough to keep them knocking.

Why Not?

Besides those newspaper salesmen, who else has the audacity to go door-to-door anymore? That's easy—Jehovah's witnesses and perhaps some other faiths. But, why not Christians? Perhaps people may think we belong to one of those faiths and pretend they're not home when they see us coming, like we do. Maybe we'd be intruding. It's quite possible that we'd get doors slammed in our faces. But what if, just maybe, one of the people on your block invited you inside to share what you seem compelled to share with them?

Have you ever even thought of knocking on your neighbor's door and asking if you could actually give them something that could change their life? I mean really, what's the worst that could happen? I can recall being on a plane and saying that I wanted to share the Gospel with whoever sat next to me that morning. So, as I looked over and saw her writing, I started up some small talk. Well, it ended up being crumb-size convo, because she was more focused on writing in her journal than engaging with me. It was then up to me to take a deep breath, say a quick prayer in my heart, and simply ask, "Can I talk to you about something?" She could have responded with a negative, which would have meant that we sat next to each other the rest of the flight like talking was forbidden (as we did even though I didn't have the gumption to ask her such an intruding question). Or maybe she would have said, "Sure, why not?" I'll never know. Fear paralyzed the possibilities.

Anxiety, however, wasn't the only thing that kept me from going a step further in the conversation. I stopped short that morning as I thought of her need to be discipled, if she wasn't a believer, and I wouldn't have been able to ensure that if we didn't live in the same state. I wouldn't be able to invite her into community, so why even ask? Is on-the-plane evangelism the best way to witness? Debates about the best methods and strategies clogged my mind. Funny enough, had she been reading a book by John Piper or listening to Young Oceans, I wouldn't have thought twice about mentioning my appreciation for both, and we could have talked the entire plane ride. Connecting with other members of the family is certainly beneficial, but for many of us, it's also very comfortable. And if our comfort is what keeps us from sharing, then it's also very selfish. I definitely believe in being led by the Spirit and using wisdom in sharing anything with others, but I'm starting to wonder if many of our reservations, theological or not, are just neatly wrapped excuses.

JUST DO IT

No, the Great Commission is not to share the Gospel with as many people as you can before you die. It's to make disciples. No, we don't need to stand on corners and yell at passersby that they are going to hell, yet offer them no hope.  But maybe, just maybe, we need to stop chanting 1-1-6 until we're actually unashamed enough to tell our neighbors or some stranger the Good News just because it's that good. And since we know it's not enough to just know the Gospel, afterwards, we should invite them into our lives and community for discipleship.  I once heard a professing atheist say that he didn't understand why Christians weren't relentlessly sharing the Gospel with those around them if they really thought that people who don't know Jesus would spend an eternity wishing they did. That stung. Some of us aren't great communicators, door-to-door witnessing might not be realistic in other cases, but praying for the courage to actually share with others is the least we can do. Many of us are praying for people to come to Jesus, but we haven't extended the invitation to them ourselves. This radical approach, however, finds root right in the scripture. Jesus himself sent out the disciples in Matthew 10 to go door-to door.  Paul said he would endure everything to share the Gospel. And Christ himself was willing to die for the salvation of those who crucified Him.

The reward of an eternal life for another human being is much greater than a bag full of candy and well worth the risk of a slammed door. So, I'd say it's about time we started knocking. In one way or another.

 

 

 

 

So, I was thinking...

"Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think." (MLK Jr.) Well, Martin, here are my thoughts...Take 1

So, I was thinking about codependency. Maybe you've heard that word used before; maybe you haven't. One of my pastors dropped that word (bomb) on me some months ago, and it has since become more common in my speech. It has been my struggle—once unknowingly—for some time now: the need for another.

As I was feeling the pains of that struggle one night, I began researching the meaning behind a song that sovereignly found me. In the process, I came across these words from Jon Foreman: As consumers in a commercial driven culture, we can begin to view other souls as objects or potential cures for our deepest fears and insecurities. "Perhaps if I found the right lover I would no longer feel this deep existential despair." But, of course, no human soul could be the Constant Other—the face that will never go away. Only the infinite can fill that role.

As he sees it, so often in relationships (friendships included) there's a despair that surrounds leaving the presence of a significant other or a fear of them someday not being around . We hear it in the "love" songs on the radio—"I can't live without you."

That got me thinking about my struggle, my need for a constant other, but also how our "love" seems to vary. So many of us say we love God, but that looks different than the all-consuming, R&B, romantic drama love we seem to have for whatever or whoever has our heart. We say we love being with God; yet, our lives are set up in such a way that says we can manage without Him quite often. When our devo time is over, we go on with life as though we don't want or need the Godhead throughout the day.

But what if we saw God like that person [or insert whatever grips your heart strings] we can't live without? We'd long for His presence and never want to leave it (Psalm 27:4). We'd wake up in the morning and run to Him. And once our alarms or mental schedules alerted us that we have to head to work or school, we wouldn't just walk out the door feeling like the 30 minutes (or more for some) was enough til the next morning. Instead, we'd say like a desperate lover, "Lord, please stay with me throughout the day. Just keep me near your heart. The fullness of joy lies in you and apart from you I can do nothing. So, come with me to work. To school. To the store. Everywhere I go, I want you with me. I need you with me. Lord, you have the words of eternal life. To whom else would I go?"

Codependency...somehow the word doesn't sting as it did then. Instead, I can hold it up as my trophy.

I can unashamedly say that I am needy...

I need Thee every hour, most gracious Lord; No tender voice like Thine can peace afford.

I need Thee every hour, stay Thou nearby; Temptations lose their power when Thou art nigh.

I need Thee every hour, in joy or pain; Come quickly and abide, or life is vain.

I need Thee every hour; teach me Thy will; And Thy rich promises in me fulfill.

I need Thee every hour, most Holy One; Oh, make me Thine indeed, Thou blessed Son.

Does it really matter who you vote for?

My desire as I wrote Christianity and Politics was to 1) expose the sin many Christians commit when we choose to value more highly political ideologies than healthy, honorable relationships with our brothers and sisters in Christ, 2) shed light on Scripture that gives us understanding on many political issues that divide us, and 3) call Christians to gain our political allegiance solely from God and His Word. The Bible is replete with insights that answer many of our politically charged questions, like: is our democracy Christian (or can it ever be Christian), how are we to treat, care for and engage the “least of these” in society, where does life begin and where is it found, and how should we view issues like abortion, same-sex “marriage,” universal health care, and embryonic stem cell research as Christians.

I have heard Christians say, “We just need to vote for the lesser of the two evils.” To this statement I ask, “Which party is less evil?” Which party possesses less evil than the other?  After evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of each major political party in this country, we discover that each political party is tainted by a worldly political system that promotes ideologies and practices that grieve God’s heart and are considered immoral and unrighteous.

The reality is, no matter how we cast our vote each voting cycle, we are casting our vote in a worldly political system that is not Christian, no matter how many of our laws are guided by biblical principles. And yet, all hope is not lost. While it is true the governing systems around the world were not created by God, Christians who are called by God to work in these man-made institutions can influence their colleagues, the leadership, and even the masses by their life and character (like King David and Joseph).

So, what are we to do this fall and any voting cycle in the future when we help decide who will lead this country for the next four years or two or six?  We are to rest and be at peace! If you pray and ask God to help you know who you are to vote for, I know He will guide you. When God guides you, there is no room to judge another brother or sister in Christ and how they vote. Go, cast your vote, and rest knowing that you have participated in a process that few countries around the world have the privilege of experiencing (telling our government what we want from them, versus the government telling us what they want from us). God is sovereign.  He does not make mistakes, even when we make mistakes. He is faithful to bring to pass His perfect will, even when we are not faithful to do our part (by praying and voting).

I praise God as a Christian that I live in a country that enforces (for the most part) the pillars of our democracy.  I am glad that I can vote for those who lead me, that the laws of this county cannot discriminate against me and that the laws of this country are applied equally to all citizens. But what I am the most encouraged about is being salt and light in this world, which shapes the society around me morally. I believe government has its well-defined role and Christians have our well-defined roles. If we would only live out these roles to the best of our ability (Christians proclaiming and living out ‘thus says the Lord’ and government acting justly toward the people), most of the confusion around politics and the Church would disappear.

What will you do? Will you throw up your hands and conclude you cannot make an impact on the direction our country seems to be going? Will you blame one political party over the other and all who affiliate with that party for the challenges our country faces? Will you exercise your right to vote by studying the candidates–their character, their political record, their work ethic, etc.–and praying for guidance as you go to the polls? Will you choose to be salt and light in this world, no matter the cost? While it will be costly, the results and impact of being salt and light will be well worth the sacrifice!

Dear Amanda Todd

On September 7, 2012 Amanda Todd uploaded a video on YouTube where she shares about enduring years of bullying in school and online. A little over a month later, October 10, she was found dead. While authorities have not officially ruled the death a suicide, they do not suspect foul play. Here's her stirring video:

After learning of her story and viewing the video above, I was heartbroken.  I thought of  my good friend who's life has had its share of heartache. That same friend was inspired to share her own story and hopefully offer hope to anyone who feels alone.

Aren't You over slavery yet?

A few weeks ago, an artist by the name of Propaganda released an amazing work of art.  Excellent, the album, has gotten kudos from many; however, one track on the album has been the subject of much debate. The entire project is in-your-face, and this song is no exception. I think Propaganda spoke blunt truth, because there are many  historical facts that aren’t talked about in Christian circles when we discuss the Puritans.

The facts:

George Whitfield campaigned to have slaves at his orphanage.Jonathan Edwards owned slaves.

The Southern Baptist Convention made negro inferiority a theological conviction amongst its convention. Did these negative attributes define who these people were? Not in my opinion.

But I wonder if the issue was abortion...

What if George Whitfield campaigned for the rights of women to have abortions? What if Jonathan Edwards owned abortion clinics?

The Southern Baptist Convention made a woman’s right to choose a theological conviction amongst its convention, because it was that important. Not that I agree with the abortion and slavery comparison, but I think abortion would make us think of this issue very differently. It shows how we value certain issues more than others.

Honestly, I love what Propaganda says on "Precious Puritans". He is right. I think the entirety of the poem speaks to the flaws of all leaders, which is a healthy reminder and deserves even more discussion.  For instance, the issue of romantcisizing leadership's sin isnt an all "white thing." From our current president to a plethora of entertainers, black people can conjur notions that our cultural heroes are spiritual ones as well.   We literally lose our minds if Evander Holyfield prays before he gets into the boxing ring, because that one act, in some way, absolves his litany of spiritual issues. We suffer from the same blinding light of popularity.

But beyond the Puritan debate, I think this song exposes the reality that white people are far too often tired of the slavery conversation altogether and want to move on.  I understand that many white people feel like they shouldn’t have to discuss something they weren’t apart of. But does that mean we should embrace the fact that humans were once used like a rake or luggage—nothing but tools? Black people were considered three-fifths of a human and made white people a fortune; are we to glaze over that? Considering that it is that fortune that many whites have gained a considerable amount of privilege from, I'd say no. It is healthy to consistently take a look at how we actually thought God was ok with slavery as we knew it in this land of the free. It would also be a benefit to our missiology within cities to understand how slavery and Jim Crow have affected the black population today.

All in all, sin is never easy to talk about. Yet, my prayer is that we grow more comfortable with examining, confessing, and praying over the sins of our forefathers. It will, as James 5:16 promises, bring healing to our nation.

Joy in the mundane

The more I looked at my life, the more I began to notice that I was truly discontent with it. I found it to be pretty mundane and thus void of any joy. I wanted a change. I needed a change. Everywhere l looked and everyone I talked to seemed to be in one of two camps. On one end, I heard if I wanted to be happy I needed to do something about my life. With all the self-help books and resources out there talking about how to make a “better life now” it only made sense. On the other end, I heard it’s just a phase. It’ll pass. My situation would “get better in time.” I just had to hold on and wait it out. No matter which one of these camps I leaned toward, the same problem arose. No joy in the now. Anyway it went, my joy would be found in what could be. But what could be for me just happened to never be what was. Then it hit me, what if life would always be this way? What if my situation would never change? What if life for me would forever be mundane at best? [pull_quote_left]What if you found out that there is just as much joy to be found in the day-to-day, same old same old as there is in the most exciting times?[/pull_quote_left]Does this mean a life full of discontentment, a life void of any true meaning, a life void of any happiness or true joy? I couldn’t be the only person dealing with this, I thought. The majority of people in life will never be a movie star, millionaire, or celebrity. The majority of people will never have what society deems an extraordinary life. The majority of people live pretty ordinary lives hoping for extra-ordinary lives because they think “if only I... I would be happy.” This is easy to believe considering we live in a day and age where this is what is hammered into our brains. Everywhere you turn, society is telling us there is more for us to chase to make ourselves happier…to dream bigger dreams that will bring us joy.

But what if I told you that wasn’t true? What would your life be like if you knew there was joy to be found right where you were? What if you found out that there is just as much joy to be found in the day-to-day, same old same old as there is in the most exciting times? What if you didn’t have to wait for tomorrow? What if joy was right where you are at this moment? What would life be like if you could find joy in the mundane? In a day and age when everyone is saying chase your dreams, who is challenging us to find joy where we are? To stop chasing “what could be” and just enjoy “what is”. (If that sounds like a great plug for a book, good! I’m writing one!)

In no way am I saying that you should "settle" for life just the way it is, but we need to reshape the way we view those things in life that we have become discontent with and we now see as "mundane." I wholeheartedly believe the mundane is a gift of God's grace that is often overlooked seeking out the next "big event".

What’s stopping us from finding joy in the mundane?

Do we not believe that God has us where we are for His glory, which is in turn for our joy? At times, this is tough simply because our will does not align with His will. Many of us, if we are honest, don’t want it to. This is because we can’t seem to figure out how His glory brings us joy. We want to be at the center of our own universe and everyone else’s for that matter.

I believe that God has called some to have much some to have little and some to be in the middle, but all to find joy where they have been placed with what they have been given. You can find joy knowing that when it’s all said and done God will look over your life and say, “Well done my good and faithful servant.” What could possibly give you more joy or make you feel like more of a success than those words from the God of the universe?

Joy is found in God. God finds joy in Himself. Christ is the exact imprint of God; the very nature of God. All things were created by Him, for Him and for His pleasure or joy. That means all things “good” “bad” or “mundane” play a part in our joy if our joy is found in Christ.

Christ is sufficient. He's not just enough, He's all!

If someone were to pour water into a cup until it ran over, that would prove that the water was sufficient to fill the cup. Yet, just because it was sufficient to fill the cup doesn’t mean it stopped when it hit the brim. It clearly was more than enough, but in order to be more than enough it had to first be enough. Don’t get confused when scripture says that Christ’s “grace is sufficient”. This doesn’t mean that it is “just” enough to get us by. It means that as long as we have his grace we’ll never be in lack. It will never be less than enough to fill us, and because He is and has so much more than we can even begin to imagine, it can also overflow us.  We no longer have to make the present an enemy of the future joy that awaits dreams fulfilled.  Truth is, if you’re always living life for tomorrow and don’t enjoy today, when tomorrow comes you won’t enjoy it either because tomorrow will always become today.

So why not put an end to that loathing cycle and begin experiencing joy right where we are?

A life well spent with Christ can be anything but mundane.

Different But Equal (Part 2)

2: ROLE of RESPECT: You have the power to breath life or death.

The best way we can help is to breath life into our husbands.

How do you breath life?

God created man with such a uniqueness from women.  I wish someone had TOLD ME SOONER!   As a woman, I don’t need the same things a man does; they don’t need the same things we do.  I see this in my sons and daughters already. Trinity, Jade, and Briaiah need to be protected, pursued, told they are beautiful, affirmed, hugged; their hearts need to be shepherded.  Dhati, Brayden and Nathaniel need to conquer, they need to be the strongest, they need to know that their lives count for something and they naturally protect.

Not too long ago, my oldest son stood up for my oldest daughter on the playground—Dhati-4, Trinity-9.  A little boy was picking on Trinity and Dhati saw it.  He ran, stood in front of her and told the boy not to touch Trinity.  Dhati got knocked to the ground, but stood back up and got back in front of his sister.  His natural instinct was to protect. [pull_quote_left]They need respect.  If they don’t get it, it is like you are taking their very air away from them.  They cannot breathe, they cannot conquer, cannot protect, cannot shepherd, cannot love, cannot pursue.[/pull_quote_left]  When Trinity told me the story, and I asked Dhati about it, he was proud; he didn't need us to say thanks, he was naturally proud of his role.  On another note, a couple weeks after this incident, Dhati got punched in stomach in the lunch line.  He tried to keep it together and, he was fighting his emotions, but when I happened to walk into the lunchroom on this day to have lunch with him, he lost it.  He felt embarrassed and disrespected.  My boys need respect.  I pulled Dhati aside in that cafeteria, told him I was proud of him for being a boy who cares about people and wants to protect.  I told him I was proud of him for being a good boy and not a bully.  His eyes lit up and all that embarrassment, all the self-doubt seemed to melt away immediately.  THIS IS WHAT RESPECT IS.

They—boys, men—need this respect.  If I discipline the boys in front of others, I do not get the same result as if I pull them aside and talk to them; that shows respect.  THEY NEED IT.  It breathes life into them.

Look at 1 peter 3: v.1 won without a word by respectful conduct v.4 precious in sight of the Lord is the gentle and quiet spirit (this does not mean being vocally quiet; it’s a quiet spirit) And Ephesians 5: v.33 See to it that the wife respects her husband.

I have also seen the opposite of this in the adult world. I have had countless opportunities to mentor young ladies in their role as married women.  I would say the number one area that is just ignored is the woman’s understanding that she can breath life by respecting her husband.  I remember talking to one young lady who had only been married a few years. She consistently told her husband what to do, complained all the time about what he did/didn’t do, talked bad about him in public, raised her voice at her husband and then later complain that he did nothing to help around the house or with the kids.  I challenged her one day, “You are breathing death into your marriage.  She looked at me like I just cut her right arm off.  She had no idea she was a major part of the problem; she had no idea she was being disrespectful.  She had the same misconception that many of us have, that men are strong, so we can just say what we are feeling.  They are men; they should be able to take it. Not the case. They need respect.  If they don’t get it, it is like you are taking their very air away from them.  They cannot breathe, they cannot conquer, cannot protect, cannot shepherd, cannot love, cannot pursue.

Another couple that we have known for years shared a story that one day, the wife sat in front of her husband and told him, “I don’t love you or respect you.  I never have.”  Tears streamed down the man’s face—crushed.  Death.

US: What does this look like for us?  We come in with a love deficit as women.  Dad didn’t accept us, friends have rejected us, or we have believed the lies of the enemy and that alone has stolen our love capital. Whatever way, we come to the table with a love deficit.  In the same way, regardless of the upbringing and background, a man comes to the table with a leadership deficit, a respect deficit.  They are secretly waiting for someone to tell them that they are good at what they do.

ME: I assume all the time that Dhati knows that he’s great, but I also tell him. And regardless of how many times I say it, I see life breathed into his soul every time I say something that affirms his leadership over our family.  “Babe, you are such a great leader. I am so excited we have 3 boys that will get to see it modeled well.”  “Babe, that sermon was great, but the best thing about it is that you are able to speak with confidence, because you are a man of integrity. Not everyone can say that about their husbands, thanks for leading in that way.” “Babe, I can follow you wherever you see fit to lead this family, because I trust you at the core.”  You would be amazed at what that does for a man.

Dhati said in one of his manhood sermons, “Imagine if every man in here got this...got what it means to be man." I have the same heart for our ladies.

Imagine what it would look like, how society could be transformed if every wife saw dignity in her role, chose to respect her husband and be a life breather.

Helpmate: means literally ‘a help answering to him’ or ‘one who answers’...Adam needed a helper.

God has called our husbands to work, and we are called to help.  We are a team. If we can play our role as Helper, die to self and embrace the team’s best interest, we can be so much more effective for His glory.

 

Different but Equal

I am a mom of six, and I take this parenting thing very seriously. When I am asked to share about marriage and women’s roles in marriage, I ask myself, “If I could have had only two concepts shared with me or two concepts I could share with my daughters, what would they be?” The other night, I was reading the story of Bathsheba with my girls before going to bed, and I made the comment that Bathsheba’s role as wife to David was one of value, but it was very different from David’s—he was leader.  Trinity’s face soured, “Mom, I don’t like that.  I think I am a pretty good leader,” she told me.  There is something innate in a woman that wants to lead, wants to take over.  In many ways, we can be more competent and better at certain things than men (I’m sure there are statistics to prove it). And the funny thing is that Trinity is right; she is a good leader, and she will probably continue to prove to herself that she is smarter than the boys around her. I didn't have to teach her that; it is real in a woman even at a young age.

Society has dealt with this very issue in a couple of different ways: egalitarianism, chauvinism, and complementarianism.

The Egalitarian view is the idea that men and women are the same and equals.

The Chauvinistic view says that men are more valuable than women.

The Complementarian view describes men and women as equal but distinct. Equal in value but holding different roles and responsibilities.

I ascribe to the last view.

To some women, this view brings comfort, but to some, it brings fear.  Honestly, early in my walk with the Lord, having a different role did not comfort me. Submission = bad word.  You see, I had goals.  I was valedictorian of my high school, and I had scholarships upon scholarships (I even had money left over after I paid for school, books, room and board, etc.). I had my heart set on becoming a pilot, and I scored high on my aptitude tests, so I was on the path to being just that.  I didn't need a man to lead me!  Besides that, my parents and the models I saw made the idea of following someone look gross, belittling.   Being married and submissive meant cooking dinner for a man that just watched tv all day, putting up with someone calling me names because they had the right to do so, and feeling threatened because they were bigger than me.  This idea was not comforting, and I am sure a lot of you have the same discomfort.  But I want to show you the dignity we have with our roles as wives.  Let’s look at the wife, by looking at who the Holy Spirit is.

WHO IS THE HOLY SPIRIT?

The Holy Spirit is a person of the triune Godhead. The Trinity is Father, Son, Holy Spirit.  Each of those is a person within a triune Godhead.  All three are God. The father is God. The son is God. The Spirit is God.  All three are perfect and holy. All three are equally God.  And the Holy Spirit, just like the others, is alive today and lives in the hearts of every believer.

We find in the scriptures that the Holy Spirit is called 'Helper.'  The Greek word Parakletos is used for ‘helper’, which means: advocate, defender, helper, comforter, counselor, representative of Christ, teacher, and one who reminds us of truth.  That is the Holy Spirit.

Now, what does this have to do with being a wife?

If you read Genesis 2:18-19, you will see that God says he will give Adam a helper (parakleto)—someone suitable (or fit) for him.  He created a union between man and wife and He says He wants to give Adam someone that can help him and be suitable for him.

1:  The role of the wife, like the spirit, has tremendous dignity. We are given the same job description as that of the Spirit!

THIS LEADS US TO AN IMPORTANT QUESTION:  Is the Holy Spirit less of a person in the Trinity than the Father or Christ?  And in regard to wives, is our role less than that of our husbands?

Looking at chapters 14-16 in the book of John, we see the importance of the Holy Spirit’s role; He is God-given (14:16), He will bear witness (15:26), and He will teach (16:12).

The role of the wife, therefore, like the Spirit’s role, is not lesser but plays a part of ONENESS.

The Holy Spirit is a part of a Godhead where three persons exist with equal importance but different roles, yet united as ONE.

The husband and wife are also called one.  Genesis 3:24 says, “Therefore, a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife and they shall become ONE flesh.”  A marriage is supposed to be a team designed to accomplish God’s glory.

Application: Ladies, shift your mindset of what it means to be a HELPER. God graciously put us in this position and in this role.  We have to accept it, and I pray that we would be satisfied and energized in it as well.  Seriously ladies, this is where the enemy has kept us in a trap.  We are paralyzed and unable to enjoy our roles in marriage, because many of us have bought into the lie that it is not dignified. Or, we are unwilling to even marry because we have bought into the same lie.  Who wants to ‘just help’ someone else?  But, if we can really own the fact that God gave us our role, and He gave us dignity in it, then, and only then, can we really make a difference!

Let’s transition.

My second point

What I wish was shared with me before marriage, and what I am definitely teaching my daughters now is that our role in marriage is to be respectful.  I had no idea what this meant.  I thought ‘respect me’ meant, “You gonna respect me!” But I’ve since realized that we have the ability to breathe life or death into our husbands...

*Part 2 will be featured on Wednesday.

Sex and the Lies It Sold Me, Part 2

When sexual intimacy is ultimate in our mind, every other intimacy feels superficial. Friendships won’t suffice; we feel we need a husband or wife, or a girlfriend or boyfriend. But, as William Struthers states in his book Wired for Intimacy, “[Our] need for intimacy is like the need for a complete diet. It has many dimensions that are best satisfied through multiple means, not just the sugar of sexual relations.”

If there’s one thing we can do without, it’s sweets. We won’t die if we don’t taste “the sugar of sexual relations”. We all have a desire to know and be known, but this doesn’t happen through sexual intercourse alone. Intimacy is not essentially sexual. But, again, our culture has done its best to convince us that we can’t go without sexual intimacy.

Sex Was Still Ultimate

And I was convinced. Sex was still (subconsciously) ultimate in my mind, so my wait for sexual intimacy began. As a Christian, I would have to wait until I was married to experience “true” intimacy. I would have to wait for a wife.

Maybe you can relate. Some of you reading this might not share my experience with porn and acting out sexually (see previous post). But I’m sure many of you know what it feels like to wait. Waiting for a husband. Waiting for a wife. Waiting for the “right one”.

Marriage is Good…So Singleness is Bad?

But I’ve slowly realized God’s grace in giving me this gift called singleness. It is never punishment. The goodness of marriage does not make singleness bad. Yes, God did say, “It is not good that man should be alone.” But this was at a time when God’s goal was building a nation that would be His people, which required Adam to have a partner with whom He could procreate. And, Jesus and Paul remained single (not bad company).

Singleness is good, sex is good, and marriage is good. But neither singleness, sex, or marriage is ultimate. But, as a Christian, as long as sex remains an idol in our mind, it’s likely that an idolatry of marriage will saturate our thoughts and desires. Because, again we are making a good thing into God. Sex was never meant to be ultimate, and it’s not ultimate. God is ultimate; satisfaction and fulfillment can only be found in Him.

A Warning on Waiting

But I want to end with a warning to simply say that we should watch our hearts closely. While I want to make it clear that it is not wrong to desire to be married, what we call “waiting” on a husband or wife can be dangerous. I realized this one day as I read Titus 2:11-14:

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ…

Paul uses the phrase “waiting for our blessed hope”. Have you ever considered the connection between hoping and waiting? The connection is this: If you want to know what your hope is, ask yourself what you’re waiting for. So it could be said that, if you’re waiting on a husband or a wife, your hope is finding a husband or wife.

This might not sound that bad at first, but consider what it means to make something your hope. Your hope is what stands out in your mind as the best possible thing that could happen to you. It makes sense when we hear Paul say, “…our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” So, to Paul, the best thing that could happen to him was the return of Christ. Christ’s return was Paul’s hope; it was what he was waiting for.

What Are We Waiting For?

And this should be our hope. This is what every Christian should be waiting for—Christ’s return. We should be waiting to see him face to face.

Lying side by side, face to face with your spouse is undoubtedly a gift. But standing face to face with your Creator and Savior is the unmatched reward of everyone belonging to Christ.

So my burden of singleness was lifted with the realization that my hope should always and only be Christ himself. My hope is His embrace, not the embrace of a woman. I also realized that I wasn’t looking for a woman that would hope in me, but a woman that would hope with me. Not a woman whose heart is set on finding a husband but a woman whose heart is set on seeing the glory of Christ.

Remember, sex is not ultimate; God is ultimate. Intimacy is not essentially sexual. There is a void in your heart that only God can fill; neither a spouse nor sex will ever do it. And if you desire to be married, what you’re longing for is only the shadow of a greater reality—the gospel. May our hope always rest in that reality.

Sex and the lies it sold me

I was exposed to pornography at a young age—somewhere around 11 years old. I remember being at a friend’s house and finding a Playboy in his parents’ bathroom. It was then that I discovered that I was wired to find enjoyment and pleasure in a woman, or, in other words, the opposite sex. I was captivated by a woman’s form, covered or bare. At the time, I didn’t understand why. I didn’t understand the science behind all of it. I didn’t understand God’s purpose for my sexuality. But I didn’t care; I just knew it felt good. I knew there was pleasure in the fulfillment of my sexual desires.

My Exposure to a Lie

But with my exposure to pornography came my exposure to an enormous lie. This is a lie that our culture has bought into and continues to buy. We spend our life, our time, our money, our marriages, and even the lives of our children on this lie. The lie is this: SEX IS ULTIMATE. We’ve been led to believe that the ultimate satisfaction of our body and soul is found in sexual intimacy.

This is the lie that ruled, and almost ruined, my life. Within two years, what started with a peek into a Playboy magazine would become an addiction to pornography. Pornography hijacked my brain and distorted my view of women to the point that they became objects. My first girlfriend wasn’t someone I confided in. Though I cared for her, I subconsciously viewed her as something to be consumed.

Sex is good—We’ve made it God

I don’t doubt that this lie has tainted your mind. Some people have tried to convince you that sex is bad. Some people have taught you that sex is good. But many of us believe that sex is ultimate. We’ve taken something that God calls good and made it God. In other words, we’ve made sex an idol.

Freedom from an Addiction

Sex was my idol. And lust was my master. I was a slave to my passions. But in my first year of college, God began to give me new passions, new desires. I began to understand the gospel. I began to see the glory of a God who took on human flesh to die for a people who had no love for Him, in order that they might know Him. This told me something—God is not like anyone else I know. God is good. God is worthy of my trust and my worship. I quickly understood what God said about my sin. He hated it, so I began to hate it. I wanted to be free from my addiction to porn.

God delivered me from my addiction. I didn’t enter counseling (not that there is anything wrong with doing that). I did put accountability software on my laptop and phone. But the fight for freedom started in my heart. It started with my realization that God is for me. My fight with sin (in this case an addiction to porn—to lust and self-indulgence) was one I would fight with God’s help. He was fighting with me, not against me. In this fight, God’s help was clear. He had given me His Spirit (Jn. 14:16-17), His word (2 Tim. 3:16-17), and a community of confession and prayer (1 Jn. 1:9).

And in the midst of my failures, I found great comfort in Romans 6:14. It was a promise that because I was living under God’s grace, not God’s law, that this sin would not rule me. I was safe in His grace, He was fighting with me, and He had promised me freedom from the reign of lust, adultery, and self-indulgence in my life.

I began to see that God’s design for sex is good; it is to be enjoyed in the context of marriage (the science supporting this idea is amazing by the way). I began to submit to the Bible’s decree that any sex practiced outside of marriage is sin.

From One Idol to Another

But even as a Christian, I wasn’t free from the lie that once controlled my passions. In the back of my mind, sex was still ultimate. I wouldn’t act out sexually as I had before. I knew if I were going to have sex, it would have to be in the context of marriage. So, because sex was ultimate, and sex belonged in the context of marriage, guess what happened? Marriage became ultimate! I would be looked down upon if I confessed my continued idolatry of sex. On the other hand, an idolatry of sex confessed as a desire to be married was much safer.

But suddenly singleness became a burden...

*Part 2 coming on Monday.